Iaquinta Nation braces for UFC's Ultimate Finale
In the seconds after the Rangers were eliminated from the Stanley Cup playoffs, only a few people inside McCann's Pub in Massapequa noticed. Most of the 53 televisions were tuned in to FX to watch Wantagh's Al Iaquinta in the semifinals of "The Ultimate Fighter."
Two people who most certainly didn't notice the Rangers' overtime loss were Jay and Agnes Iaquinta. They weren't even at the bar.
"We have a routine," said Jay Iaquinta, Al's father and the longtime football coach at Hewlett High School. "I watch it down in my basement. My wife watches it upstairs. When the fight is over, then we go to McCann's. [His first fight], I was taping it downstairs. I was watching it. She was watching it upstairs. He won the fight. We didn't change the routine."
The bar operates as a home base, a clubhouse of sorts, for "Iaquinta Nation," as their T-shirts say across the front. And it figures to be crowded again Friday when Iaquinta fights Michael Chiesa in the Ultimate Finale at The Pearl at The Palms in Las Vegas.
At stake for the lightweights are a guaranteed six-figure contract with the UFC and inclusion of the phrase "Ultimate Fighter season winner" when introduced in future fights.
"I'm actually starting to flip out," said his trainer, Ray Longo. "I haven't been this nervous in a long time."
Iaquinta (5-1-1) requested that Longo, along with his jiu-jitsu coach and former UFC welterweight champion Matt Serra, be in his corner for the fight. After three months of being away from home, away from television, Twitter, cellphones, Facebook and other creature comforts for a 25-year-old, Iaquinta wants to see a familiar face or two.
"They brought me up in the pro ranks, and now that I kind of made it a little bit, of course they're going to be here," Iaquinta said.
Quite a few folks from "Team Iaquinta" -- that's what it says on the back of those T-shirts -- will be in Las Vegas. His parents, too. They booked their tickets and hotel well before he won a decision over Vinc Pichel in the semifinals. Iaquinta beat Andy Ogle by first-round TKO in the quarterfinals a week earlier after more than a month off since his preliminary win over Myles Jury.
"Watching Friday nights, even if he didn't fight, we'd at least get a little glimpse of him," Jay Iaquinta said. "Whether he was in the final or not, we figured we'd at least be in the arena with him."
The finale against Chiesa (7-0) will be Iaquinta's third "biggest fight of my life" in a 15-day span. That can take its toll on any fighter, both physically and mentally. It's also something Iaquinta will need to forget about quickly as he walks to the cage Friday, his coaches in his corner, his friends and family in the four corners of the arena.
"It's been a nice run with that kid," Longo said about his four years working with Iaquinta. "He was always a kid who could put it all together. He's starting to think now."